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Cyanide, back by popular demand?


After a five year hiatus from mining-related cyanide threats to water and fish, the mining industry wants Montana to rethink.

The use of cyanide was banned after Initiative 137 passed in 1998.

This time the mining industry wants to codify stricter mining restrictions, and get back in the game, through an initiative that voters could see on the ballot this fall.

Environomics, a consulting firm out of Whitehall, and the Montana Mining Association have joined together to develop the initiative, which is currently under review by the offices of the secretary of state and the attorney general. If it’s approved, 20,510 signatures will be required to get the initiative on the ballot.

“There’s nothing in this initiative that is new. The restrictions they are proposing are already required by the state Department of Environmental Quality,” said Matt Clifford, conservation director and staff attorney at the Clark Fork Coalition.

Warren McCullough, a bureau chief with the Department of Environmental Quality, agreed.

“It’s new in the sense of making it statutory, but I didn’t see anything in there that we couldn’t already require,” McCullough said. The DEQ didn’t historically require the provisions because they didn’t fully understand what could go wrong with the cyanide heap-leaching process, McCullough said.

“A lot of permit conditions were drawn up in the late ’80s and early ’90s when our understanding of cyanide was different than after we dealt with Pegasus [Gold Corporation] for five years,” McCullough said.

Restrictions in the proposed initiative include secondary liners to avoid leaks, leak detection systems, contingency systems to recover cyanide solution in the event of a leak and ponds that will withstand large weather events.

“They have already done these things in places where the safeguards didn’t work,” Montana Environmental Information Center’s Jeff Barber said. “This initiative is all about opening a mine on the Blackfoot.”

Safeguards proposed by the mining industry, counters Environomics Vice-President Tammy Johnson, are “no longer discretionary. These are things that must happen…there wasn’t an opportunity to have a full dialog in 1998.”

Canyon Resources Corporation, whose proposed Blackfoot operations were preempted by I-137’s passage, has helped to fund Environomics, Johnson confirmed.


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